Category Archives: Strategic Outlook

Predictions and forecasting.

Tuning into Tunisia: An Assessment of Tunisia’s Naval Forces

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While much international attention is directed toward the flow of refugees from Syria and Iraq to Europe, which has prompted the partial suspension of the European Union’s Dublin Regulation by the German and Czech governments and even sent shockwaves through Canada’s ongoing federal election, hundreds of Libyans continue to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Kos Island has become famous around the world as the front line of the migrant crisis,

Migrants wait at a Lampedusa holding center. (Click image for source)
Migrants wait at a Lampedusa holding center. (Click image for source)

yet Italy’s Lampedusa continues to face an overwhelming number of both political refugees and economic migrants fleeing Libya in the wake of that country’s civil war and resulting unrest.

The Libyan Navy is in no position to be of assistance in managing the crisis. While it has a single Soviet-built Natya-class minesweeper still in operation, the remaining vessels of the Libyan Navy, comprised of a Soviet-built Koni-class anti-submarine warfare frigate and two Polish-built Polnocy-C-class landing ships, are reportedly undergoing refits in Malta and France. Though the Libyans doubtless possess some collection of small patrol craft, the force has thus far been unable to effectively police Libyan waters. In March 2014, an oil tanker from the rebel-held port of Sidra successfully evaded a Libyan Navy blockade, leaving a team of United States Navy SEALs to intervene and seize the tanker.

Fortunately, the Tunisian National Navy has proved itself to be a reliable partner in securing the Mediterranean and averting humanitarian disaster. In August 2015, Tunisia commissioned its first locally built patrol boat, Al Istiklal (Independence). This development made Tunisia the first country in the Arab world to develop a shipbuilding industry of its own and only the second in Africa, following South Africa’s lead. Reportedly, Al Istiklal is an 80-ton patrol boat that measures 26.5 meters in length and is 5.8 meters wide, enjoys a top speed of 25 knots and a range of 600 nautical miles, all while equipped with a 20mm cannon, two machine guns, and a thermal imaging camera. This expansion of  Tunisian maritime capabilities was bolstered by four patrol boats of unidentified classification from the United States Navy (USN) earlier in 2015, with a further three boats expected for delivery by the end of 2016.

It is difficult to accurately assess the size of the Tunisian National Navy, but best estimates place the total number of vessels operated by Tunisia at 40 gunboats or patrol

One of Tunisia's Combattante IIIM Class Fast Patrol Boats with MM-40 Exocet missiles. (La Galite 501 pictured)
One of Tunisia’s Combattante IIIM Class Fast Patrol Boats with MM-40 Exocet missiles. (La Galite 501 pictured). (Source: World Military Intel)

boats, one landing craft, and six other non-combat vessels. The largest vessel operated by Tunisia’s maritime forces, President Bourgiba, was a decommissioned Edsall-class destroyer escort, USS Thomas J. Gary, which was transferred to Tunisia in 1973 and rendered no longer operational by a severe fire in 1992, having served at sea for almost 50 years in total. Since then, the largest vessels operated by the Tunisian National Navy are its six Albatross-class fast attack craft manufactured in Germany by Lurssen, with a displacement of almost 400 tons each. In short, Tunisia’s maritime forces are non-expeditionary and have been focused entirely on coastal defense for more than two decades.

It is unclear whether the US sees the transfer of defense equipment like the aforementioned patrol boats as part of a broader effort to counter al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or other militant Islamist groups. But it certainly has paid dividends in rescue efforts. As recently as June 2015, Tunisian patrol boats saved some 650 migrants and refugees bound for Lampedusa on unsafe rafts. A June 2015 attack on a Tunisian beach resort by Libya-based terrorists, in which 38 people were killed, demonstrated how closely connected Tunisia’s security is with that of its neighbors, Libya and Algeria. As such, Tunisia is bound to continue to play a significant role in securing the North African coast. Nonetheless, it would be prudent for European members of NATO to press for a formalization of this relationship, similar in many respects to the Tactical Memorandum of Understanding struck with the Kingdom of Morocco in 2009 to secure Moroccan participation in Operation ACTIVE ENDEAVOR, NATO’s ongoing maritime mission to monitor traffic and combat terrorism in the Mediterranean. With or without European recognition, Tunisia appears set to be a maritime leader in its own right.

Paul Pryce is the Research Analyst for the Atlantic Council of Canada’s Maritime Nation Program and a long-time member of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC).

An Arctic Nuclear Weapon-​Free Zone: Can there be Cooperation Under the Counterforce Dilemma?

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The following piece is by Conference of Defense Associations Institute guest contributor Nancy Jane Teeple and can be found in its original form here.  It is republished with their permission.

The promise of stability-​enhancing and confidence-​building measures under the New START agreement is waning. Obama’s Prague Agenda and New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) signed between the United States and Russian Federation in Prague on 8 April 2010, hoped to see reductions in nuclear stockpiles and delivery systems by 2018 – an agreement made at a time of significantly reduced tensions between the former nuclear competitors. The renewal of tensions between the West and a revanchist Russia under President Putin, particularly apparent in the Ukraine crisis, threatens the longevity of arms control.

The possible results of this trend are worrisome. We could see the deterioration of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty and any prospects for global disarmament enshrined in the Nuclear Non-​Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and promoted by groups like Ploughshares and the Nuclear Security Project. These conditions have implications for proposals for an Arctic nuclear weapon-​free zone (NWFZ) promoted by notable individuals from foundations such as the Canadian Pugwash Group, Gordon Foundation, and Science for Peace.

The fear of nuclear weapon use for the most part declined since the end of the Cold War. The reduction of tensions between the East and West encouraged bilateral arms control negotiations not seen since détente in the 1970s. The emergence of movements promoting a world without nuclear weapons reinforced notions that the nuclear era was over, and that remaining stockpiles had to be destroyed to prevent potential accidents. Not surprisingly, nuclear weapons are considered by many to be a relic of the Cold War.

However, following the rise of Putin, the emergence of asymmetric threats, and new near-​peer competitors such as China, the Bush administration withdrew from the Anti-​Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and pursued rapid modernization of the US nuclear triad in order to counter the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from rogue nations and terrorists. These actions reinvigorated the security dilemma between the US, on one side, and China and Russia, on the other, with the latter two viewing the development of offensive nuclear weapons systems as threatening – in so far as the development of counterforce capabilities geared towards targeting another state’s nuclear arsenal can be seen as both a challenge to their second-​strike capabilities and a repudiation of mutually assured deterrence. A new arms race ensued. Both China and Russia are modernizing their own nuclear arsenals, and Russia has ignited a new Cold War over the North with the renewal of long-​range

A Russian Tu-45 bomber seen during an interception in 2011. (Source: Crown Copyright, via IHS Jane's 360)
A Russian Tu-45 bomber seen during an interception in 2011. (Source: Crown Copyright, via IHS Jane’s 360)

bomber patrols near the airspace of NATO member Arctic states.

Geopolitically, the Arctic may become a region of military confrontation, particularly with the rapid militarization by the Arctic-​5 states (Canada, Norway, Denmark, Russia, and the United States), especially Russia, in enhancing their Arctic capabilities to defend economic interests in the region. In addition, although the United States, Russian, and NATO articulate an interest in reducing their nuclear arsenals and missions, they also reaffirm reliance on a credible deterrent capability so long as nuclear weapons are in the world.

This is the context within which global players must consider the feasibility of an Arctic NWFZ. Is such an initiative in the national interests of the United States and Russia? Would such a régime provide the stability needed for further cooperation on arms control and disarmament? What sort of role could smaller but influential states, such as Canada, play in encouraging bilateral negotiations to consider reducing nuclear forces in the Arctic? These are the questions that must guide any Arctic NWFZ initiative. Options must also be considered that involve compromises and concessions in order to minimize possible defections. What sort of agreement could find receptivity in both the United States and Russia?

An Arctic NWFZ must be tailored to the unique geographical and geopolitical character of the region and boundary options may not start out as comprehensive zones. Inclusion and exclusion zones involving the seabed, subsea, surface, and airspace must be considered. It might be prudent to explore provisions from existing NWFZs and other regional treaties banning nuclear weapons, such as the Antarctic Treaty, Seabed Treaty, and Outer Space Treaty. Limited geographical zones have been proposed, such as the Northwest Passage, which would open up opportunities either for resolution of the disputed status of the strait, or provide options for joint Canada-​US monitoring and enforcement.

Another option involves establishing an exclusion zone in

Source: US Geological Survey
Source: US Geological Survey

the Canadian Basin, located north of the Beaufort Sea. If Canada’s claim to the seabed that extends into the Basin is recognized by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, Ottawa may be able to promote a NWFZ through administering its sovereign rights to protect the sea life by prohibiting nuclear-​carrying vessels that pose a threat to the environment.

In establishing an Arctic NWFZ régime that would be receptive to the US and Russia, a potential option has been proposed by experts at Pugwash. This would be a treaty to prevent nuclear weapons in the entire region above the Arctic Circle. In order to be strategically feasible, this option would have to be adapted to the counterforce postures of the US and Russia by allowing the continuation of nuclear deterrence operations, as well as the replacement of nuclear warheads with conventional alternatives.

The modernization of the US nuclear triad is already being adapted for conventional counterforce options on both ballistic missile and air delivery systems. Russia is also developing a hypersonic conventional delivery system – an answer to the US Conventional Prompt Global Strike program. Like the United States, Russia’s air and sea-​based deterrents can be outfitted with conventional warheads. This option acknowledges the reality that Russia’s Northern Fleet, which includes its ballistic missile submarines, is based mainly above the Arctic Circle. Russia would not likely be receptive to any arrangement that would restrict its sea-​based deterrent, placing it at a strategic disadvantage to the United States.

These options may have been possible before the spring of 2014. However, under current conditions getting the US and Russia to the negotiating table to consider new arms control agreements does not seem feasible. Relations between the US/​NATO and Russia can be characterized by Russia’s mistrust of NATO in Eastern Europe, accusations on both sides of violating the INF Treaty, Russia’s perception of the threat posed by US offensive counterforce weapons, Russia’s growing declaratory reliance on nuclear weapons, and the growing military and economic competition in the Arctic pitting Russia against the other Arctic states. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in early 2014, followed by military interventions in Ukraine’s eastern provinces of Donesk and Lukhansk, has intensified conditions of mutual mistrust, threat, and uncertainty.

Such conditions tend to militate against the potential for an Arctic NWFZ and must be mitigated before the nuclear powers are likely to consider cooperation. Unfortunately, a new détente is very unlikely in the foreseeable future.

This article originally featured at the CDA Institute and can be found in its original form here.

Nancy Jane Teeple is a Doctoral Candidate in Political Science at Simon Fraser University. Her areas of study include nuclear strategy, arms control, Arctic security, and intelligence. (Featured image courtesy of Russian Defence Policy blog.)

Enter the SCAGTF: Combined Distributed Maritime Ops

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 “…The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War 

Six Phases of Warfare
Source: JP 3-0

In modern parlance, winning without fighting is accomplished in Phases 0 and 1 of a campaign.  China is seeking to achieve a Phase 0-1 victory in the Pacific through its acquisition / deployment of Anti-Access Area Denial (A2AD) weaponry and economic / military coercion of its peripheral neighbors. When the two are coupled, US operational and diplomatic freedom of maneuver becomes severely constrained, and decisive counter-strategy is required.

Historically, the US has attempted to counter each of China’s weapon systems / diplomatic moves individually without attacking its overall strategy.  When new Chinese weapons systems are deployed, new American countermeasures are fielded.  When China builds new islands where disputed sandbars and reefs once existed, the US flies freedom of navigation sorties overhead.  When individual South East Asian countries are coerced by China to abandon multilateral UNCLOS negotiations and sign bilateral agreements, the US reaffirms support of multilateralism.  The American strategy demonstrates


resolve and intent, but does little to shape the environment, and deter the near peer competitorIt plays like a precipitated withdraw and ceding of the South China Sea to China—a stunning admission that there is seemingly little that the US can do when faced with the Chinese dominated political-economic landscape on one hand and a potential naval – air war of attrition on the other. 

The potential Chinese A2AD environment is particularly daunting for the US Pacific Fleet.  Chinese forces could elect to deploy their anti-surface / land attack ballistic and cruise missiles to keep American carriers outside of the 9-Dash Line; disable reconnaissance satellites; jam communications necessary for secure / centralized command & control; threaten to overwhelm remaining forces with vast numbers of aircraft while using the majority of their ships and submarines to counter the US asymmetric advantage in undersea warfare. By asymmetrically threatening American Navy “kill chains”, and especially by holding its naval center of gravity—the CVNs—at risk, the Chinese can effectively turn the American critical strength into a critical vulnerability.  The US cannot afford to lose even one CVN and thus when confronted with the threat of a paralyzing strike against its Pacific CVNs followed by an attrition war, it is prudent to assume that the US would not risk the losses and would exit the battlespace. A potential de-facto Chinese victory in Phases 0-2 could thus be achieved without a decisive Mahanian sea battle–just a credible threat.

Solution sets to countering Chinese A2AD Phase O-2 victory are under development from multiple sources—US  Naval Surface Forces (Distributed Lethality); Marine Corps Combat Development Command (Distributed STOVL [F-35B] Operations); US Marine Corps Advanced Studies Program (Engagement Pull).  All have one thing in common: strategic distribution of mobile offensive power to hold China’s freedom of maneuver in the South China Sea at risk, and inhibit their sea control over key sea lines of communication (SLOC). These solution sets represent a significant evolution in the strategic thought surrounding the US pivot to the Pacific:  attacking China’s strategy vs countering its individual asymmetric capabilities.

In Distributed Maritime Operations: Back to the Future, Dr. Benjamin Jensen states that

“…integrating land and naval forces as a ‘fleet in being’ denying adversary sea control is at the core of the emerging distributed maritime operations paradigm.” 

The defining of the pieces parts and the organizational construct of this paradigm is at the heart of the matter.  General Al Gray, USMC (ret) and Lt. General George Flynn, USMC (ret) recently presented at the Potomac Institute their thoughts on Sea Control and Power Projection within the context of The Single Naval Battle.  In their vision, the forces would include:

To this list I would add tactical level cyber capabilities.

Forces engaged in these missions will likely operate in near proximity to each other and in joint / combined operations, as the American, Australian, New Zealand and British sea, air and land forces of Guadalcanal did.  They will be required to pose sufficient threat to Chinese forces without significant reinforcement due to anticipated Chinese A2AD.  The inter-complexity of their likely combined Sea, Cyber, Air, Ground operations dictates that their task force command and control should not be ad-hoc, but must be defined well in advance to allow for the emergence, experimentation and exercising of command knowledge, skills, abilities and tactics / doctrine. US and allied lack of exercising joint/ combined, multi-domain operations prior to Guadalcanal led to tactics and command and control (C2) doctrine being written in blood.  This lack of foresight should not be repeated.

A SCAGTF construct allows for the US to shape the environment with its allies, deter the [Chinese], and if necessary to seize the initiative, buying time for the massing of forces to dominate the battlespace.  The SCAGTF is one way to integrate the great ideas of our best strategists on distributed maritime operations into a single, flexible organizational structure that is capable of mobile, simultaneous combined / joint multi-domain operations in all phases of warfare.  Such a force could aid the US in reversing its Pacific fortunes, in reinforcing multilateral peace and security for the region, and ultimately in realizing Sun Tzu’s bloodless victory.

Nicolas di Leonardo is a graduate student of the US Naval War College.  The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the War College or the United States Navy.

Piracy 2.0 : The Net-Centric Evolution

Network-Centric Warfare derives its power from the strong networking of a well-informed but geographically dispersed force. – VADM Arthur Cebrowski, Proceedings 1998

Almost twenty years ago the pages of Proceedings carried an article by RDML Cebrowski that introduced the concept of network-centric, or net-centric, warfare.[1] The concept transformed the manner in which the United States (U.S.) Navy operates and fights. The principles that defined net-centric warfare remain relevant as they support Navy’s current pillars of Information Dominance: Battlespace Awareness, Assured Command and Control (C2), and Integrated Fires. The success of net-centric warfare has not gone unnoticed. Navies around the world are working to develop their own net-centric solutions. As a result, the U.S. Navy should not be surprised when enterprising individuals around the world similarly take note and make the evolutionary leap from traditional piracy to net-centric piracy.

While piracy has been a scourge for the duration of human history, the technological advances of the 21st century provide potential pirates transformational means, methods and opportunities. While the world has yet to witness a case of net-centric piracy, the two scenarios below present possible piracy events leveraging today’s technology.

Basic Net-centric Piracy

Sixty-two nautical miles south east of Singapore – 17JUL15 1154C: An Indonesian pirate opens his laptop and logs onto the internet via satellite phone. His homepage is a commercial Automated Identification System (AIS) website providing real-time track data from coastal and satellite receivers.[2] The laptop, satellite phone and website subscription were all funded by his investors.[3] As he scans his homepage, he looks for AIS contacts that meet his desired vessel profile for cargo type, transportation firm, flag, and speed of advance. Today there are two AIS tracks of interest matching his profile and likely to pass through his preferred zone of operation, MV OCEAN HORIZONS and MW ORIENTAL DAWN. He then checks weather conditions and determining that they are favorable, he sends individual texts messages containing coordinate and track data for the AIS tracks of interest. The text recipients are two fishing boat captains, one located in Belawan, Indonesia and the other in Dungun, Malaysia.

Indonesian Pirates
From: The Maritime Executive – Indonesian Pirates

Forty-six nautical miles east of Belwan, Indonesia – 17JUL15 1646C: MV ORIENTAL DAWN passes a non-descript fishing boat 46 nautical miles off the coast of Indonesia. Unbeknownst to the crew of the MV ORIENTAL DAWN, this fishing boat is captained by the pirate’s associate from Belawan. The fishing boat’s captain discretely observes the passing vessel through a pair of high-powered binoculars. Seeing barbed wire along the railings and an individual on the ship’s deck that does not appear to be a member of the crew, the fishing boat captain utilizes a satellite phone to call and report his observations to his Indonesian pirate contact. Based on this information the Indonesian pirate determines that MV ORIENTAL DAWN is not a suitable target.

One-hundred seventeen nautical miles east of Singapore – 17JUL15 1707C: The Indonesian pirate receives a call. This time it is the fishing boat captain from Dungun. The captain reports that the MV OCEAN HORIZONS is loaded down creating a smaller freeboard and there does not appear to be any additional security measures present. Given this assessment, the Indonesian pirate decides that MV OCEAN HORIZONS is a target of opportunity. He immediately has the crew of his ship alter course.

Thirty-seven nautical miles east of Pekan, Malaysia – 18JUL15 0412C: The Indonesian pirate launches two high-speed skiffs from his ship, both carrying multiple armed personnel. The Indonesian pirate mothership remains over the horizon, but in radio contact while the skiffs conduct the remainder of the intercept.

Sixty-two nautical miles east of Pekan, Malaysia – 18JUL15 0642C: The armed personnel from the skiffs board MV OCEAN HORIZONS and catch the crew off guard. Once in control of the ship, they contact the Indonesian pirate via radio and report their success. The Indonesian pirate immediately opens his laptop and reports his success to his investors. He also lists the ship’s cargo for auction on a dark website and sends a ransom demand to the employer of the MV OCEAN HORIZON crew.

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Sophisticated Net-centric Piracy     

Moscow, Russia – 17JUL15 0126D: After a series of all-nighters over the last week, a Russian hacker has gained access to a crewmember’s computer onboard the MV PACIFIC TREADER.[4] Using this access he maps the shipboard network. Discovering a diagnostic and maintenance laptop used for the ship’s automation and control system on the network, he quickly exploits the laptop’s outdated and unpatched operating system to install a tool on the automation and control system.[5] The tool enables a remote user to either trigger or disable a continual reboot condition. Once installed, the hacker posts the access information for the tool’s front end user interface in a private dark web chatroom.

Prague, Czech Republic – 16JUL15 2348A: Sitting in his Prague apartment, a pirate receives a message on his cellphone via a private dark web chatroom. The message is from one of several hackers he contracted to gain access to control or navigation systems onboard vessels operated by the TRANS-PACIFIC SHIPPING LINE. With the posted access information, he logs onto his laptop and tests his access into the MV PACIFIC TREADER automation and control system. After successfully establishing a connection he closes out of the tool and electronically transfers half of a contracted payment due to his hired hacker. Next using a commercial AIS website providing real-time track data from coastal and satellite receivers, he determines that MV PACIFIC TREADER is likely headed into port in Hong Kong.[6] Posting a message in a different private dark web chatroom, the pirate provides the identifying information for MV PACIFIC TREADER.

Hong Kong, China – 19JUL15 0306H: On a rooftop in Hong Kong, a young college student pulls an aerial drone out of her backpack. She bought it online and it is reportedly one of the quietest drones on the market. She also pulls three box-shaped objects out of her backpack. Hooking one of the objects to the drone, she launches it and flies it across Hong Kong harbor in the direction of a ship she identified during the day as the MV PACIFIC TREADER. Using the cover of darkness she lands the drone on the top of the pilot house and releases the object. Repeating this process twice more, she places the box shaped objects on other inconspicuous locations on the ship. After bagging up her drone, she posts a message to a dark web chatroom simply stating that her task is complete. Almost immediately afterwards she receives a notification that a deposit was made into her online bank account.

Prague, Czech Republic – 25JUL15 1732A: After eating a home-cooked meal, the pirate sits down at his laptop and checks the position of MV PACIFIC TREADER via the commercial AIS website he subscribes to. Observing that the MV PACIFIC TREADER is relatively isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, he opens the remote tool that provides him access to the ship’s automation and control system. He sends a text message and then clicks to activate the tool.

Two-thousand ninety-three nautical miles north east of Hong Kong – 26JUL15 0332K: Onboard MV PACIFIC TREADER an explosion engulfs the bow of the ships sending flames into the dark air. Immediately, the ship’s engines roll to a stop as the navigation and ship’s control system computers go into a reboot cycle. The lone watchstander on the bridge is paralyzed to inaction by the surprise and violence of the events unfolding around him. The Master immediately comes to the bridge, completely confused by the events occurring onboard his ship.

Prague, Czech Republic – 25JUL15 1736A: The pirate confirms via his remote tool that the ship’s automation and control system is in a continuous reboot cycle, then he re-checks the commercial AIS website and confirms that MV PACIFIC TREADER is dead in the water. He immediately sends an email to the TRANS-PACIFIC SHIPPING LINE demanding a ransom, stating MV PACIFIC TREADER will remain dead in the water and more explosive devices will be activated until he is paid.

New means – Same motive

These scenarios illustrate how the evolution of technology and the increased connectivity of systems and people potentially enable a fundamental shift in the nature of piracy. Despite the change in means and geographic distribution of actors, net-centric and traditional piracy both utilize physical force or violence, or the threat thereof, by a non-state actor to seize or detain a vessel operating on the high seas. The key enabler of net-centric piracy is the Internet.

Piracy Hot Spots

The Internet is the net-centric pirate’s “high-performance information grid that provides a backplane for computing and communications.”[7] Admiral Cebrowski argued that this information grid was the entry fee for those seeking net-centric capabilities.[8] What Admiral Cebrowski did not know was how rapidly the Internet would evolve and enable near-instantaneous global communications at relatively low costs, allowing anyone who desires access to a high-performance information grid.

As the net-centric pirate’s high-performance information grid, the Internet serves as a command and control network as well as the means for disseminating intelligence information, such as vessel location or the presence of physical security measures. The intelligence that is disseminated may also have resulted from collections performed via the Internet. One collection means is to leverage the vast area of private and commercial data sources available for public consumption, again at little or no cost, such as shipping schedules and AIS data. A second means of collection uses the Internet to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) via cyber techniques; however, only the most sophisticated net-centric pirates will possess this capability. Similarly, highly sophisticated net-centric pirates may be able to achieve global weapons reach by producing physical effects via cyber means over the Internet, eliminating the need for the pirate to be physically present in order to seize or detain a vessel.

Somali Pirates
From: OCEANUSLive – Somali Pirates

The attractiveness of net-centric piracy is the low barrier to entry, both in risk and cost. Since the Internet is the key enabler of net-centric piracy, its low cost and ease of use vastly expand the potential pirate population. The anonymity of the Internet also allows potential net-centric pirates to meet, organize, coordinate and transfer monetary funds with a great degree of anonymity. As a result, the risks of arrest or capture are significantly reduced, especially since a net-centric pirate may not be able to identify any of their co-conspirators. Similarly, the ability of net-centric piracy to enable remote intelligence gathering or even produce physical effects via cyber techniques removes a significant element of physical risk associated with traditional piracy. The monetary gain from the successful capture of a vessel compared to the low cost and risk currently associated with net-centric piracy make it an attractive criminal enterprise.

Countering Net-centric Piracy

The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Article 101 defines piracy as:

  1. any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
    • on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
    • against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
  2. any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
  3. any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (1) or (2).[9]

Under this internationally recognized legal definition of piracy, net-centric piracy clearly results in violence against or detention of vessels on the high seas for private ends. It is also clear from this definition that any activities associated with facilitating a piracy event, such as intelligence collection or compromising a vessel’s computerized control systems, are also considered piracy under international law. International law also states that “All States shall cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State.”[10] As a result, the international community must resolve how it will counter net-centric piracy, where pirates need not operate on the high seas and may be located thousands of miles from the target vessel.

The challenge facing the international community from net-centric piracy is compounded by immaturity of international cyber law. Currently the authorities and responsibilities of international organizations, governments and law enforcement agencies with regards to the use of the Internet to commit piracy are undetermined. This challenge is further complicated by the fact that the Internet is a manmade domain where all potions are essentially within the territory of one state or another. As a result, disrupting net-centric piracy operations will require a significant degree of international coordination and information sharing. Extensive international cooperation will also be required to identify, locate, and apprehend individuals involved in net-centric piracy.

From: Encyclopedia Britannica – Pirates utilize a range of weapons and technology

While an occurrence of net-centric piracy has yet to occur, the opportunity and capabilities required for such an event exist today. The U.S. Navy should not be caught off guard. Instead, the Navy should take the following actions:

  • Raise awareness within the international maritime community regarding the risks and realities of net-centric piracy
  • Provide best practice and limited cybersecurity threat information to transnational maritime shipping companies
  • Work with partner Navies to develop means and methods for disrupting net-centric piracy, including developing an appropriate framework for information sharing and coordination
  • Work with Coast Guard, law enforcement and international partners to develop a cooperative construct for identifying, locating and apprehending net-centric pirates
  • Engage with the State Department to advance international dialog on net-centric piracy, including the need for consensus on international law and processes for prosecution of net-centric pirates

An enduring lesson of human history is that opportunity for profit, regardless of difficulty or brevity, will be exploited by someone somewhere. Net-centric piracy represents an opportunity to generate revenue without requiring the physical risks of traditional piracy. The anonymity and distributed nature of the cyber domain also creates new counter-piracy challenges. Add to this the low cost and availability of unmanned system components coupled with the low barrier of entry for cyber, and the question becomes not whether net-centric piracy will occur but when. With a global interest in maintaining the international maritime order and ensuring the uninterrupted flow of commerce on the high seas, the U.S. Navy must be ready to meet the challenges of net-centric piracy.

[1] VADM Arthur K. Cebrowski and John H. Garstka, “Network-Centric Warfare – Its Origin and Future,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Volume 124/1/1,139 (January 1998).


[3] “Somali Piracy: More sophisticated than you thought,” The Economist (November 2nd, 2013),

[4] Jeremy Wagstaff, “All at sea: global shipping fleet exposed to hacking threat,” Reuters (April 23rd, 2014),

[5] Mate J. Csorba, Nicolai Husteli and Stig O. Johnsen, “Securing Your Control Systems,” U.S. Coast Guard Journal of Safety & Security at Sea: Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council, Volume 71 Number 4 (Winter 2014-2015).


[7] VADM Arthur K. Cebrowski and John H. Garstka, “Network-Centric Warfare – Its Origin and Future,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Volume 124/1/1,139 (January 1998).

[8] Ibid.

[9] United Nations, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (New York: United Nations, Article 101, 1994).

[10] United Nations, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (New York: United Nations, Article 100, 1994).

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Navy, Department of Defense or Government.

LCDR Brian Evans is a U.S. Navy Information Dominance Warfare Officer, a member of the Information Professional community, and a former Submarine Officer. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and holds advanced degrees from Johns Hopkins University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Naval War College.